Continuing on in our film series, an introduction to Medium Format cameras and systems (by reader request!)...
So, you think you want to shoot medium format but don’t know where to start? There are a dizzying array of medium format camera systems available, both new and used. In order to narrow down your options, ask yourself these questions... Do you want a twin lens camera or a SLR style? Manual focus or auto focus? 6x6 or 6x7? Once you’ve got your focus narrowed, your choice may become more obvious to you.
6x4.5 gives you more frames per roll of film, and 6x9 more closely resembles 35mm in format. 6x6 is most commonly used for weddings and portraits. 6x7, 6x8, and 6x9 tend to be used more for studio work since the cameras that shoot in this size tend to be heavier and more difficult to hand-hold out in the field. All of these may be shot on either 120 or 220 film and most brands will accept a Polaroid film back as well.
If you want something that looks like a 35mm camera on steroids, then you will be shooting 6x7. The Pentax 6X7 is a popular choice for that style. The square SLR box style cameras will shoot everything from 35mm-6x8 and will allow you to swap out the lens, back and prism. This is by far the largest category and includes Hasselblad, Mamiya and Bronica brands.
On the other hand, a manual camera has fewer parts to go bad and costs less. My favorite brand for a beginner is Mamiya M645 (manual focus). It’s very reasonably priced and easy to use. There are numerous lenses to choose from, although the 80mm is the “standard” and is a good place to start. You can swap out 120 and 220 inserts. You have the option of using a waist level finder or a metered prism and it’s also light enough to hand-hold. You also won’t need too many special accessories for this camera. The camera will accept any flash unit through a standard pc cord or hot shoe on the prism, and there’s even an optional motor drive available. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles on this so it’s easy to learn how to use, and the size makes it fit into small hands easily.
|Mamiya 645 (manual focus)|
A few things to keep in mind: If you’ve never shot with 120 or 220 film before, the most important thing to remember is not to load the film backwards (yes, I’ve done that)! If possible, ask the sales person to show you or pay close attention to the instruction book or on-line instructions. If you are used to shooting in 35mm or digital, keep in mind that you’ll get far fewer shots than you’re used to, so you’ll end up using a lot of film or become very adept at choosing your shots. For more info. on where to buy and develop film, refer to this article.
Medium Format System Options:
- Bronica: ETRS, GS-1, Rangefinder, SQ
- Contax: 645 AF
- Fuji: medium format (G series)
- Hasselblad: classic MF and AF
- Mamiya: 6 and 7, 645 AF and MF, RB, RZ, Twin Lens Reflex
- Pentax: 645, 6x7
- Rollei: Medium format, Twin Lens Reflex
- + Misc. medium format: Graflex, Koni Omega, Kowa, Polaroid, various press cameras, Rapid Omega, Plaubel Makina, Minolta, Yaschica, etc. etc.
- Chris Brooks